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Buddhist monks disrobed to 'survive' Khmer Rouge

Buddhist monks disrobed to 'survive' Khmer Rouge

On orders of the “Angkar”, shortly before April 17, 1975, Khiev Neou, a monk of more than 20 years, was marched out of his pagoda and disrobed, he told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.

Khiev Neou told the court that at the time he was 42 years old and that years of war in Cambodia had taught him to be “careful” and do whatever he was told.

“[I had] gone through various stages of war. We had been told that we should keep silent on others’ matters and just mind our own business and that was not the only occasion, that had been the instruction and practice from a long, long time ago,” he said.

“When we were ordered to disrobe, we just did that so we could survive; we did not think much of the rest,” he said, later adding that he continued to practise his religion in secret throughout the reign of the Khmer Rouge.

Senior assistant co-prosecutor Tarik Abdulhak asked the witness why he continued to practise Buddhism in “secret”.

“Because Buddhism is the best religion,” Khiev Neou replied.

Abdulhak attempted to clarify his question about practising religion in secrecy. The indictment against the three elderly co-accused states that “All religion was prohibited by the [Khmer Rouge] including Buddhism pagodas were destroyed, virtually all Buddhist monks and nuns were disrobed, and some monks were threatened with death or killed if they did not comply”.

Khiev Neou responded that it would have been useless for people to go to pagodas because there were no monks.

“What would be the point? They would just go to see an empty pagoda,” he said.

Khiev Neou spoke of friendly ideological spats between himself and his neighbour, deceased Khmer Rouge leader Ta Mok, before the revolution.

“I tried to convince him based on Buddhism, and he tried to convince me based on his doctrine. We were adamant, we were not easily covinced,” the former monk said.

“However later, when he had more power, I was convinced. But my background in Budddhism would never be convinced – I am still superior to him in terms of this.”

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